Proposed legislation to address legislative time limits in response to COVID-19

Infographic: Proposed legislation to address legislative time limits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

On July 20, 2020, the Minister of Finance introduced Bill C-20: An Act respecting further COVID-19 measures. Part 3 of Bill C-20 would enact a new Act, the Time Limits and Other Periods Act (COVID-19),to address limitation periods in civil litigation and pressing regulatory time limits included in federal legislation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges on many fronts, both for individual Canadians and businesses. Access to justice and the effective functioning of our justice and court system are fundamental to a just and fair Canadian society. In these exceptional circumstances, many Canadians, businesses and other organizations may be unable to meet numerous time limits currently set out in federal legislation, including rules for court civil cases and some key regulatory matters.

The Time Limits and Other Periods Act (COVID-19) would allow the continued protection of Canadians’ rights in the context of civil legal proceedings, by ensuring that individuals are not prevented from asserting their rights because of the passage of a time limit. It would also better support Canadians, Canadian businesses, and the Government in making sure they are able to avoid irreversible legal consequences.

Extension or suspension of legislative time limits

The Time Limits and Other Periods Act (COVID-19) has two parts which respectively address time limits relating to civil litigation proceedings and other time limits and periods included in federal legislation.

More specifically:

  • Regarding civil litigation, upon receiving Royal Assent, this proposed new Act would automatically suspend time limits established under federal legislation for starting a legal proceeding or doing something in a legal proceeding. This suspension of time limits would be valid for a maximum of 6 months, starting on March 13, 2020 and ending on September 13, 2020 or on an earlier date fixed by order of the Governor in Council on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice.
  • Regarding regulatory matters, the proposed legislation would allow federal ministers to make temporary orders to extend or suspend other time limits identified in specific federal legislation for which they are responsible, where failure to meet those time limits could have a significant impact on individuals, businesses, and the Government. Orders made under this provision of the proposed new Act could be retroactive to March 13, 2020 and valid for a maximum of 6 months, but would not have effect beyond December 31, 2020. Such orders could not be made after September 30, 2020.

Time limits in civil proceedings

In normal times, Canadians can rely on courts to deal with their legal problems within set time limits. These time limits allows Canadians to properly exercise their rights and puts a limit on when and how legal actions can be taken by or against them.

At the federal level, there are many litigation time limits involving courts that could be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as:

  • the 30-day period to file an appeal of a divorce decision under the Divorce Act
  • the time limit for a taxpayer to file for an extension should they challenge an assessment or decision made under the Income Tax Act
  • various time limits to bring a claim against the Crown

The existing time limitations for civil court proceedings can place significant pressure on individuals and organizations to take risks or not follow public health advice, for example by leaving their home and meeting with legal advisers.

The current timelines may also cause some individuals to lose their litigation rights because they are not able to meet certain deadlines for various reasons, such as rightly prioritizing their family’s health or because of difficulties in electronically filing materials with the courts.

This proposed legislation would allow the continued protection of Canadians’ rights in the context of civil legal proceedings, by ensuring that individuals are not prevented from asserting their rights because of the passage of a time limit.

Time limits and other periods in federal legislation

Many provisions in federal legislation require Canadians, businesses, and the Government to meet specific time limits. The COVID-19 pandemic poses a risk in that it may affect capacity to meet legislative time limits and prevent individuals and organizations to operate in accordance with the law.

Federal legislation include time limits for actions such as:

  • regulatory requirements, such as filing restructuring business proposals under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act or financial statement and annual summaries by corporations, cooperatives, not-for-profit organizations and Boards of Trade under various legislation
  • government reviews, such as to reassess a taxpayer under the Income Tax Act, to perform national security reviews under the Investment Canada Act

By allowing federal ministers to make temporary orders to extend of suspend time limits set in identified legislation, the Time Limits and Other Periods Act (COVID-19) would ensure that Canadians and the Government continue to be able to avoid irreversible legal consequences.

Legislation for which federal ministers could extend or suspend deadlines are identified in this proposed new Act. This list of legislation can be found in the proposed new Act’s Schedule.

Safeguards and parliamentary oversight

The Time Limits and Other Periods Act (COVID-19) includes safeguards and parliamentary oversight provisions to enhance transparency.

These safeguards include:

  • a requirement for the legislation to be interpreted so as to provide certainty in legal proceedings and ensure respect for the rule of law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
  • a sunset clause of September 30, 2020, meaning that orders could not be made after that date, and a second sunset clause so that such orders would not have effect beyond December 31, 2020
  • a number of measures to ensure transparency and accountability, such as:
    • a requirement for all orders to be published on a government website within 5 days of being made and for a minimum of 6 months
    • a requirement for all orders to be published in the Canada Gazette within 14 days of being made
    • a requirement for all orders to be tabled in Parliament within three sitting days of being made or as soon as possible if Parliament is not sitting

Once tabled in Parliament, all temporary orders made under this legislation would be referred to a committee of the Senate and of the House of Commons.

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